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A Promising New Metropolitan Opera Season Begins This September 26th .
  It's September , and the world's symphony orchestras and opera companies are set to begin another season , including  the Metropolitan opera ,  the largest performing arts organization in the world .  This mighty and world famous institution is celebrating 50 years at Lincoln Center in New York , when it finally moved from its venerable but crumbling original home which had opened back in 1883 .  The old house was demolished , and the company moved into its glittering and glamorous  current home in Lincoln Center , which   had and still has the most advanced technology in he world for producing opera , as well as  ample  backstage  facilities for singers, which were sorely lacking in the old house .  This is also the world's largest opera house with the world's largest opera stage , and the auditorium seats nearly 4,000 !
    In May of 2017 , the company will celebrate 50 years in  Lincoln center with a  gala concert featuring many of the world's leading opera singers  who have appeared there in recent years .  This should be a memorable evening !  The season begins on September 26 with a new production of Wagner's  Tristan & Isolde ,  an overwhelmingly powerful story of  illicit love, betrayal , tragedy  and redemption set in medieval Cornwall ,England  based on medieval legend and  folklore .  The eminent   English conductor Sir Simon Rattle returns to the Met after several years ,  and the old of  the doomed  queen Isolde will be sung by the renowned Swedish  Wagnerian soprano Nina Stemme . 
   Other new productions will include the first performances of  Rossini's legendary Swiss drama  "Guillaume Tell "  (William Tell )  since 1931 . This of course, opens with the famous  William Tell overture  , but the whole opera is rarely performed because of its great length and  vocal difficulty ,  Romeo & Juliette , by the French composer Charles Gounod , best known for his "Faust " , based on the Shakespeare tragedy ,  Der  Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss , the Met's first new production of this immortal  story of amorous intrigue ,mistaken identity and  shenanigans among  the aristocrats , nouveau -riche and common people of 18th century Vienna in over 40 years ,  Rusalka , by Dvorak, a poignant and tragic  Czech fairy tale about a doomed water sprite who yearns to become human so she can experience human love ,  and  a contemporary opera , "L'Amour de Loin " (Love from afar )  new to the Met by the Finnish composer  Kaaia Saariaho .  This will be only the second opera by a woman composer to be performed by the Met, and the first one by a Scandinavian composer .  It's about time !   
     Other productions which are not new to the Met include such repertory   favorites as Puccini's La Boheme,  Verdi operas such as Aida,  Rigoletto , La Traviata,  Bizet's Carmen ,  Rossini's bubbling comic opera  The Barber of Seville,  Puccini's Manon Lescaut , Beethoven''s only opera Fidelio,   Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin ,  Mozart's Don Giovanni ,  Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman ),  Salome by Richard Strauss ,  Bellini's I Puritani  and Werther  by Jules Massenet .  
    Some less familiar but great operas include  Jenufa by Czech composer Leos Janacek ,  Cyrano De Bergerac  by Italian composer Franco Alfano , who is best known for completing Puccini's final opera Turandot , which was left incomplete when the composer died in 1924 ,  Rossini's zany comedy "LI'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian woman in Algiers ), returning to the Met after many years ,  and Mozart;s Idomeneo , set in ancient Crete after the Trojan war .
    As always, the Met will feature many of the world's most renowned opera singers , including Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko,  Thomas Hampson, Roberto Alagna,  Karita Mattila  , to name only a handful, plus many less well known younger opera singers from all over the world who are beginning to make names for themselves in the opera world .  
   Music director emeritus James Levine, despite  the unfortunate health problems which have forced him to cancel so many performances, is still  scheduled to conduct at the Met , and the Met's music director designate  , the Canadian maestro Yannick Nezet-Seguin will  conduct  Wagner's The Flying Dutchman .  Other distinguished conductors on the Met roster include England's  Sir Mark Elder, who will conduct the new Rusalka ,  Fabio Luisi for the revival of  William Tell ,  Gianandrea Noseda ,  Carlo Rizzi ,   and  legendary tenor Placido Domingo, who also doubles as a conductor , will lead Mozart's Don Giovanni .  The return of Sir Simon Rattle, music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, is eagerly anticipated .  
    Even if you don't live in or near New York,  you can easily experience Met performances in a variety of ways , and you don't even have to be rich !   The Met's High Definition  performances  can be seen in movie theaters all over America for a reasonable price ; check to see if  there is a  movie theater near you which carries them .  These take place on Saturday afternoons, and are live performances .  The famous  Met  radio broadcast performances on radio begin every December and can be heard all over America .  You can stream Met performances through Sirius and Met Opera On Demand  , and   PBS  broadcasts  a number of Met performances on television every year .  Met performances regularly come out on DVD, too .  
       If you're planning to visit New York  during the  Met season , check  the Met's website  for availability of tickets and a variety of other information .  Tickets range from  about $ 250 to only 25 .  It's much harder to get tickets for  "Hamilton " and less expensive .  
      There's nothing stuffy or "elitist " about attending Met performances .  It's a friendly, welcoming place  and audiences aren't a  bunch of wealthy, snooty people who attend  for purely social; reasons .  Met audiences are much more like sports fans - they go because the love opera and are as enthusiastic as sports fans at  sporting events  .  Yes, some rich people do go to the Met ,  but they love opera too !   Whether you attend live performances, stream them through your computer, go to  HD  performances at the movies watch  PBS telecasts or listen to radio broadcasts ,  Met performances  are  a special  thing !


Posted: Sep 07 2016, 03:52 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Yes, Classical Music Matters !
  Pardon me for using  a title influenced by one of the most contentious issues in America about human lives mattering , but Classical Music does matter in our world .  It's not dying by any means , even though it has the same kind of serious problems which exist in any field of human endeavor , but it in't as some people would claim , a trivial matter of little importance to mankind .  America is the part of the world most seriously hit by these problems,  and the very existence of so many  of its hundreds of  symphony orchestras and opera companies is threatened because of financial difficulties ,  lack of government  subsidies , and  an aging audience among other things .  
    Imagine a worst case scenario where all of America's orchestras, opera companies , chamber ensembles, choruses etc went under .  An enormous  of people would be out of work, not only the musicians, singers , but  the many people who work behind the scenes in administration, public relations etc.  People in every U.S. state would be left without the chance to experience great music live , a much larger number than most people in America realize .   A large number of composers would be left without a chance to have new works premiered .  Not a pleasant thing to contemplate .  Not good for the  U.S. economy, either ,  because so many talented, dedicated and hard working people would be out of work . Yes,  if our symphony orchestras and opera companies 
flourish, they help the economy to do better as a whole .  
    The world could function without classical music, but it would be a far drabber and more joyless pace without it .  It's wonderful to have  so much classical music on compact disk , DVD , and the internet , but there's no substitute for hearing it live .  So many people love the opportunity to take a break from their daily grind at work to attend  concerts of their local symphony orchestra or opera company , and the thrill of traveling to such major centers of classical music as New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna , and elsewhere to experience the magic of live classical music .  
   Hearing the immortal masterworks of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert , Wagner, Tchaikovsky ,  Dvorak ,  Debussy, Ravel, Verdi, Puccini , and so many other great composers live  is something which really makes life worth living for so many people all over the world , not only Europeans and Americans .  
   And unfortunately , too many people are unaware of how much more interesting and enjoyable their lives could be if they made the effort to get to know classical music and make it part of their lives . Either because they are simply unaware of how enjoyable it can be or because they blindly accept the myth of classical music being "stuffy, boring and elitist ".  Yes, this myth has closed the minds of too many people who might otherwise love it .  
   Just attend a performance, for example at the Metropolitan opera or one of the world's other great opera houses in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin , Moscow, Prague, St. Petersburg , Russia or elsewhere .  The audiences there aren't  the stereotypical image of 
bored rich people sitting in their boxes showing off their fancy clothes and Jewelry , but more like sports fans rooting for their home team , albeit not as loud and rowdy as sports fans can be .  The opera fans are rooting for their favorite opera singers and following the action of the opera as closely as sports fans are following the game . The atmosphere in the opera house is  electric, not the least bit dull or boring !  The audience applauds and   cheers loudly and yells bravo !   But here, at a great performance, there are no losers . Everybody wins - the cast, the conductor, the chorus, the audience, even the many people who work behind the scenes producing the opera as stage hands etc .  
    Audiences are also extremely enthusiastic at orchestral concerts .  After the performance, the fans discuss and argue over the merits of the performance the same way sports fans  argue over games .  So much for being "stuffy and boring ".  And is classical music "elitist ?"  No.  The term elitist implies that  orchestras and opera companies are trying to exclude people who aren't rich and white, but nothing could be farther from the truth .  They don't care  who you are as long as you buy tickets and enjoy the performances , and they very much want to attract more people to them .  Why do they have public outreach  programs and publicity agents if not to try to attract more people ?
    If anyone who is not a fan of classical music and knows little about it ever tells you that classical music is just a frivolous entertainment for the few ,  please  tell that person  'Don't knock it if you haven't tried it !"  And please try to disabuse such people of their misconceptions . Yes, classical music does matter much more than so many people realize .

Posted: Aug 09 2016, 07:55 PM by the horn | with no comments
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French -Canadian Conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin To Be Next Music Director Of the Metropolitan Opera
   In recent years ,  the brilliantly gifted French-Canadian conductor Yannick-Nezet-Seguin , 41 , has become one of the most acclaimed and sought after conductors in the world , and has been music director of  the world famous Philadelphia orchestra since
2012 .  And  he  has just been chosen to step into another highly prestigious position as music director of the Metropolitan opera , succeeding the eminent but now  ailing  James Levine , who will remain as music director emeritus .  
    These are two enormous responsibilities , and the question being asking by many leading  music critics and others is can he  manage to devote his time and energy to both jobs without spreading himself too thin ?  Only time will tell ,  but the mood at the 
troubled giant of American opera is optimistic ,  as  it has managed to engage a man of enormous talent and charisma for this colossal  job .  
   Nezet-Seguin had been been seen as the most likely conductor to succeed Levine for some time in the opera world , as he had already conducted  several operas   there to enormous critical and audience acclaim  and is not only highly respected but well liked by the  Met's magnificent orchestra, one of the finest in the world .  The  Montreal native is also currently music director of  the Rotterdam Philharmonic in the Netherlands, another esteemed orchestra and of Montreal's  Metropolitan orchestra and  is principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic .  
     Because of his extremely busy schedule , Nezet-Seguin will not officially take over his position at the Met until 2020 , but he will be  conducting at least two operas per season until he does and will be closely involved with planning and decision making  
there .  Many eminent conductors in our time have divided their time between two or more positions  , so what Nezet-Seguin is doing is nothing new .  It's impossible for one conductor to lead  seven performances a week  from September through May at the Met of as many as 25 different operas by a wide variety of composers , or to conduct a different orchestra program every week of a major orchestra such as the Philadelphia .  In the past,  the seasons of opera companies and orchestras were not nearly as long as they are today , so it is necessary to have a wide variety of guest conductors .  
    Nezet-Seguin has also been making recordings ,most taken from live performances  for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone label in Philadelphia, Rotterdam and elsewhere , including a recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with the Philadelphians , and a series of  Mozart operas recorded in Europe using the renowned Chamber Orchestra of Europe with some of today's leading opera singers .  
    Filling the shoes of  James Levine, who has devoted more than 40 years to the Metropolitan opera and achieved so much, will be no easy task .  Levine also served for some time as music director of the Boston symphony and previously the Munich Philharmonic , but  failing health , including severe back trouble , sciatica, arm tremor , an operation to remove a cancerous kidney , accidents and Parkinson's disease have  taken their toll on the revered maestro , now turning 73 .  
   The choice of operas has to be done several  years in advance at the Met, and some of its future repertoire is already known, so it remains to be seen which  operas will be done under  Nezet-Seguin beyond this time . Everyone is hoping for the Met's repertoire to remain as varied and interesting as it has been in recent years , and many critics are hoping for the Met to devote more of its time to new or recent operas than it has been .  But for the time being, things are looking up for  the Metropolitan opera .

Posted: Jun 19 2016, 01:37 PM by the horn | with no comments
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"My Life With Wagner " , by German Conductor Christian Thielemann - A Fascinating Book
  I've just read an absorbing new book by the distinguished German conductor  Christian Thielemann ( Tee-leh-mahn )  , who is currently chief conductor of the  renowned Saxon State opera of Dresden and its equally renowned  resident orchestra, the Staatskapelle, Dresden .  "My Life With Wagner " is the story  of  a lifelong devotion to the music of  Richard Wagner , the most controversial  composer in the history of classical music and opera .  Born in Berlin in 1959 ,  Christian Thielemann  grew up there as the son of musical parents who took him to opera performances  and concerts of the world famous Berlin Philharmonic when he was still a child  and who encouraged his study of music  .  Young Christian became fascinated with the music of Wagner from an early age while  also diligently studying the music of other great composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others .  
   He became an accomplished pianist as a teenager and also studied the viola .  But he aspired to become a conductor , and his talents brought him to the attention of no less than the legendary Austrianmaestro Herbert Von Karajan ,  the powerful  and influential chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic , who took him under his wing  and made him an assistant . Karajan was also a world famous  Wagner conductor  and this opened doors to  the talented and ambitious young Berliner .  But he took the traditional path toward becoming a conductor in Germany , working as a rehearsal pianist and assistant conductor in the opera companies of the smaller German cities and working his way up  toward  leading larger opera companies  as well as conducting  orchestral concerts  allover Germany and Europe .   Soon he made his debut at the legendary Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany , conducting  most of the 10 extant  Wagner operas which are performed there every Summer . 
   By the 1990s he  had become music director of the German Opera in Berlin,  the opera company of what used to be West Berlin , the one in East Berlin being the Berlin State opera .  He then  became chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic ,  and was appearing regularly with the Vienna Philharmonic  and other prestigious European orchestras, as well as making U.S.  debut  leading  the top American orchestras and making his Metropolitan opera debut .  Thielemann became renowned as one of the most important interpreters of the great German masters such as Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner , Richard Strauss, and of course, Wagner , without neglecting  new music altogether as well as conducting  music by non-german composers everywhere .  
    Thielemann began to make recordings for the prestigious Deutsche Gramophone record label of the symphonies of Beethoven, Bruckner , Schumann  and the orchestral works Richard Strauss with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Philharmonia orchestra of London ,  and the Munich Philharmonic .
    His  performances of Wagner's monumental " were   Ring of the Nibelungen " at Bayreuth were issued both on CD and DVD .  Thielemann came to be seen as the successor to Karajan  as  a  master interpreter of the great German and Austrian composers , although he was passed over by  the Berlin Philharmonic to  become chief conductor  there recently to succeed the  renowned English conductor Sir Simon Rattle  , losing out to the surprise  choice, the Russian Kiril  Petrenko .  One reason  appears to have been his  relatively limited repertoire  .   Rattle  has a very wide repertoire  and has always been a staunch champion on contemporary music .  However,  Thielemann  retains his highly prestigious position in Dresden  , where he  has conducted both opera and orchestral concerts with enormous success as well as  touring internationally his Dresden forces .  
    "My life With Wagner "  contains a wealth of fascinating information about  Thielemann's formation as a conductor  as well as his penetrating  comments  on Wagner and his immortal operas .  You learn what it is  like to conduct  Wagner operas in the theater , which is a task of daunting  complexity  and  formidable challenges both technical and interpretive .  The maestro's description of what it is like to conduct in the famous sunken orchestra pit at  the Bayreuth festival opera house , out of sigh of the audience  and visible only to the singers , which is no easy task , is fascinating . This is unlike the orchestra put of any other opera house and  makes it very difficult  for the conductor to keep  everything together . However,  the acoustics of the famous  festival theater are world famous  for their sonic splendor  , and the sunken orchestra, with the powerful brass instruments  17 feet beneath the stage make it impossible for the orchestra to drown the singers out , which is  something very difficult to avoid in other   opera houses with Wagner's large and   powerful orchestra  .  
    Thielemann  learned  so much from the advice and influence of  Karajan  and other leading  Austrian and German conductors  and observing them in action  at rehearsals and performances .  For those who may not be very familiar with the great Wagner operas, Thielemann provides  the synopses  of the operas and  describes how Wagner composed them  and how  the works are  constructed both musically and dramatically . Wagner wrote the librettos of all his operas , unlike most other opera composers .  
    The book is published by Pegasus books and  I cannot recommend it too highly .

Posted: May 30 2016, 10:04 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Dutch Conductor Jaap Van Zweden - How will He Fare as the Next Music Director Of The New York Philharmonic ?
  A few months ago , the highly respected Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden (Yaap Fan Zvay-den ) 55, was appointed to be the next music director of the New York Philharmonic , where he will succeed  the American Alan Gilbert in 2018 .  Van Zweden is currently music director of the excellent Dallas symphony orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic , and has been making quite a name for himself with leading orchestras of Europe and  America as a guest conductor ; he has appeared with considerable success with the New York Philharmonic several times and was one of several eminent conductors under consideration to succeed Gilbert when he steps down .  
   One of them was the distinguished Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is currently the orchestra's composer in residence, but he declined the job because he wants to have enough time to concentrate on composing as well as
conducting .  The orchestra's home in Lincoln Center, David Geffen hall, formerly Avery Fisher hall , will be closed for some time beginning in 2019 for extensive renovation in the hopes of improving its acoustics, long considered problematical ,  and the
orchestra's management is seeking a temporary venue or venues for the transition period .  
   Van Zweden began as a highly gifted violinist and had studied in his native Netherlands and at the Juilliard school , which is located right next to Geffen hall . At the age of 19 he became the youngest concertmaster in the history of the renowned  Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of Amsterdam , one of the world's foremost orchestras , playing  under many of the world's most renowned conductors .  Among these was the legendary Leonard Bernstein , who asked him to conduct the orchestra at a rehearsal one day so he could check the orchestra's playing from the auditorium ( conductors often do this at rehearsals to check the balance between the various sections of the orchestra to achieve clarity and transparency of sound etc ) .  Van Zweden was taken aback as he had no conducting experience, but Bernstein  sensed that he had potential to be a conductor , and the rest as they say, is history .
    So Van Zweden gave up his career as a violinist and  began to achieve success as a conductor , eventually becoming chief conductor of the Netherland Radio orchestra in Amsterdam and  was appointed music director of the Dallas symphony ,  a fine orchestra which has had such well known conductors as the Mexican Eduardo Mata and the American Andrew Litton and others as music directors and made recordings for various record labels such as EMI , RCA and others .  Van Zeden has also made recordings of the complete Beethoven and Brahms symphonies among other works in Amsterdam  .
   According to reports , the orchestra has reached world class quality under Van Zweden , known to be a very demanding and meticulous conductor , and the orchestra has released a number of recordings on its own label, including Mahler symphonies .  Van Zweden has also been conducting concert performances of  Wagner operas , and he is currently working on a cycle of Wagner's monumental Ring of the Nibelung  with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which has also been conducted by many eminent conductors including his older Dutch countryman Edo De Waart .  Naxos records is recording these live performances, and the first part of the four part cycle, Das Rheingold, has already been released .
    But now Van Zweden has  taken on one of the most prestigious , difficult and demanding jobs in classical music - leadership of the New York Philharmonic , a position which subjects a conductor to  merciless criticism form all corners of the musical press .Eminent conductors such as Bernstein , Dimitri Mitropoulos, Sir John Barbirolli , Zubin Metha and others have received  relentless flack  from music critics in New York over the years and have been taken to task both for the repertoire they programmed and the way they have inbtepreted a wide variety of orchestral repertoire . This is no job for the faint of heart .  
   Current music director Alan Gilbert is a staunch champion of  new or recent music by a wide variety of  contemporary composers , and some critics , such as Anthony Tommasini , chief music critic of the New York Times , are concerned about whether the new man will do enough  contemporary music .  In fact, Van Zweden is no stranger to contemporary music , but the  question is will he do enough , and which composers will he champion ?  Only time will tell, but Tommasini is keeping an open mind and  has stated that  Van Sweden deserves a chance to show what he can do on the job .  This is a job where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't when it comes to programming ; many critics will blast you for not doing enough, or the kind of works they hope to hear , and unfortunately , too many New York Philharmonic subscribers have very conservative tastes and are reluctant to hear new works . 
   From all reports, the members of the New York Philharmonic respect and admire the man who will be their next chief and are delighted to have him ; he would  never have been chosen without their approval .  Only time will tell how the combination of Van Sweden and  the New York Philharmonic turns out . But the signs are positive , and good luck to him . He will certainly need it !

Posted: May 02 2016, 11:07 PM by the horn | with no comments
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James Levine To Step Down As Music Director Of The Metropolitan Opera
   After 40 years as music director of the Metropolitan opera , the renowned American conductor James Levine has finally agreed to step down from this prestigious and  demanding post  because of  serious health problems which have plagued him for year

The veteran Met maestro will continue until the end of the 12015-16 season after which he will  be given the title music director emeritus .   At the age of 72 ,  Levine  is not particularly old or superannuated as conductors go ;  many have remained active well 

into their 80s . But  severe back trouble, progressing Parkinson's disease symptoms  , sciatica and arm tremors etc have forced him to conduct  from a motorized wheelchair and he has  had to cancel numerous performances in recent years , not only with 

the Met .  His ailments also forced him to resign as music director of the prestigious Boston symphony orchestra .  

   Unlike many other conductors , James Levine has  singlehandedly devoted himself to one position at the Met for the greater part of his life , and the two have become synonymous .  After making his debut there in 1971 as a rising young conductor , he 

became so popular with audiences, the Met orchestra and singers he was  soon appointed music director , a post which America's foremost opera company had never had for some reason , and he  carefully and painstakingly guided and molded  the venerable

organization , the largest performing arts group in the world  , building the  Met orchestra into one of the finest in the world  and initiating orchestral concerts with  it in in Carnegie hall ,  working with the world's greatest opera singers  and  fostering  the careers 

of numerous talented  young  opera stars .  

    Under Levine , the Met's repertoire continued to grow and diversify  greatly ; it had tended for many years to concentrate on the beloved  staples of the repertoire by Verdi, Puccini et al  to the neglect of  new operas and  and important operatic masterpieces 

which it had never presented , especially 20th century  works .  Levine conducted the Met premieres of such  operatic masterpieces as Alban Berg's Lulu , Moses & Aron by Arnold Schoenberg ,  Mozart's  Idomeneo and La Clemenza Di Tito ,  Benvenuto Cellini 

by Berlioz,  Gershwin's  Porgy and Bess ,  Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani ,  Stiffelio and I Lombardi ,  The Rise & Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Kurt Weill  .  He also led the world  premieres of several operas by leading American composers such as  John Corigliano 

and John Harbison , as well as revivals of operas which the Met had not performed  for many  decades , such as  Francesca Da Rimini by Riccardo Zandonai ,  Verdi's Nabucco  and Ernani ,  and Smetana's The Bartered Bride among others .

   Other Met premieres which he did not conduct included the  Met's first performances of operas by George Frideric  Handel such as Rodelinda, Rinaldo , and Giulio Cesare (Julius Caesar ) ,  Capriccio by Richard Strauss ,   Satyagraha by  Philip Glass ,

Doctor Atomic ,  Nixon in China and  The Death of Klinghoffer by John Adams ,  Katya Kabanova,  The Makropoulos Case and From The  House of the Dead by Leos Janacek ,  Dvorak's Rusalka,  The Nose and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk District  by Shostakovich ,

to name only a partial list .

   Maestro Levine is scheduled to conduct  three operas  next season at the Met  and the company under general manager Peter Gelb ,  is  busy searching for a  conductor of international stature to succeed him . This will be no easy task  , but  the brilliant  

Canadian French conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who has conducted  regularly there for several years with great success and is currently music director of the Philadelphia orchestra , is  considered to   have a strong chance of  doing this .

     Maestro Levine has   led the Metropolitan opera through  good and bad times ,  weathered  numerous  artistic , financial and labor crises ,  had his share of  dazzling triumphs and  controversial productions which failed to please the music critics ,     

faced  captious reviewers who faulted him for his interpretive approach  to certain operas  , complained bitterly about the  design and direction of  many operas ,  casting of singers and  the quality of  guest conductors  -  you name it .   

    However,  under Levine, the Met has  been able to engage such eminent conductors as   Daniel Barenboim , Riccardo Muti,  Simon Rattle,  Esa-Pekka Salonen,  Christian Thielemann ,  Christoph Eschenbach , Valery Gergiev ,  Vladimir Jurtowski ,

Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel ,  and others .  No matter harsh the critics may be,   the Met audience adores James Levine, and rightly so ,  as well as its superb , devoted and hard-working orchestra and chorus .  
Posted: Apr 18 2016, 10:17 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Pierre Boulez (1925 - 2016 ) . A Belated Tribute .
  This past January , Pierre  Boulez , one of the most important  composers and conductors of our time passed away at the age of 90 .  Circumstances beyond my control kept me from posting  a tribute to him immediately , but  here is my attempt to do so now .

   We  have lost a musical giant , but also a highly controversial one .  The French maestro and composer of some of the most complex and abstruse music imaginable  had at least as many detractors as admirers , but no one could deny  his importance to

the world of classical music or his brilliance as both a composer and conductor .  Boulez was an austere cerebral genius and an extremely demanding musician , but  musicians in the world's greatest orchestras , such as those of Berlin, Vienna, New York, Chicago

and Cleveland  among others , had nothing but the highest regard for his enormous technical skill as a conductor and his  personal  kindness and warmth as a human being .  He did not suffers fools gladly, as the old saying goes ,  and his opinions on  many 

other composers past and present were scathing .  

    Boulez sneered at any composer whose music he considered to be insufficiently avant-garde and too old fashioned , for example  Dmitri Shostakovich , the Russian  composer of epic symphonies inspired by  the turmoil of life in the former Soviet Union .

The enormously popular music of Tchaikovsky was something he would have nothing to do with , and his contract when he assumed the music directorship of the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s  specified that he would be exempt from  conducting it !

   The composers he  championed were  20th century modernists such as Schoenberg, Berg, Webern ,  Stravinsky , Bartok, Olivier Messiaen (his teacher ) ,  Debussy, Ravel,  Elliott Carter,  Edgard Varese ,  as well as the late romantic Gustav Mahler and others .

He never pandered to audiences  at orchestra concerts . Boulez also conducted a limited  number of operas  in London , Paris,  the Wagner festival at Bayreuth , Germany and a few other places .  Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal at Bayreuth ,

Debussy's Pelleas & Melisande ,  Wozzeck and Lulu by Alban Berg,  and Moses & Aron by Arnold Schoenberg , for example .  

     The production of the Ring in 1976 , celebrating the centennial of the  Bayreuth festival was the  legendary controversial one where Wotan and the Germanic  gods were portrayed as  19th century  tycoons  instead of wearing  teutonic helmets among  other 

peculiar features .  And Boulez's conducting was considered too cool, clinical  and concerned with clarity of texture instead of  a sumptuous wash of  ripe romantic  sonorities .  Throughout his conducting career , which began  when he  felt the need to  conduct  

his difficult music himself rather than  leaving it to other conductors  in the 1960s , he was  frequently accused of  interpretations which were  amazingly clear in texture ,  and  meticulously prepared but  cold and cerebral .  But  his performances were  rarely 

described as dull !   Boulez was  obsessed with  getting his orchestras to play exactly in tune, as his ear was amazingly sharp .  

He was music director of the New York Philharmonic  from 1971 to 77 ,  and his predecessor was the  glamorous  and flamboyant Leonard Bernstein ,  renowned for his exuberant  conducting gestures and  leaps on the podium  and his impassioned  

 spontaneous performances .  But Boulez was  extremely sober on the podium , conducting  quietly and  unobtrusively on the podium (he never used a baton, preferring not too .)  He just stood there quietly beating time precisely .  His ability to conduct  

extremely complex  contemporary music with  dauntingly complex rhythms  clearly was legendary .  Many audience members were upset by his emphasis on  rigorous 20th century music and  his avoidance of  flamboyant  romantic works  .  But he  managed

to attract audiences .  His other  major  position had been with the B.B.C. symphony in London , where he also specialized in  complex and daunting music .  He  was a beloved fixture at concerts of the renowned Cleveland orchestra for decades  as well as

a regular guest with the Vienna Philharmonic, Chicago symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic and London symphony among other great ensembles .  

   Boulez was born in Montbrison, France in 1925  and showed great aptitude both for music and mathematics in his youth , and studied in Paris with the great eccentric French composer  Olivier Messiaen (1908 - 1992 ) whose  strange and colorful  music

was inspired by bird song, Hinduism and Buddhism, among other things ,  and had a love hate relationship with his music , which he sometimes conducted .  Boulez was  a  champion of the so-called 3rd Viennese school of the great Austrian composer of 12 t

tone music, and whose techniques he  adapted in his own way as a composer .  But he even rejected Schoenberg's music as being insufficiently modern and wrote a nasty polemic piece called  "Schoenberg is dead  " shortly after Schoenberg  died in 1951 . 

    Boulez once  infamously declared than any composer who did not  use  the serial techniques  of the  modern school  was "irrelevant "  and "useless ".   But audiences did not agree with him .  

Among the most famous works of Boulez are  "Pli Selon Pli  " (fold   by fold ) and  "Le Marteau Sans  Maitre " ( the hammer without a master )  and "Repons ".  These are not works for full orchestra , but  ones for ensembles of  varied instruments, percussion, 

and other instruments with  parts for a vocal soloist with texts  based on 19th  century symbolist French poets such as Rimbaud  and modern ones such as Rene Char .  Forget about hummable melodies ;  this is not the point of the music .  Instead you get

a seemingly arbitrary  texture of random notes  scurrying about  in no recognizable key .  But there is absolutely nothing random about the music ; it is based on  extremely complex  techniques  . There are some  passages which are  "aleatory "  or  based 

on improvisatory techniques .  Boulez also uses  electronic  music  at times along with  traditional acoustical instruments .  This is anything but easy listening , but is all worth repeated hearings which  enable you to get  accustomed to it .

   Boulez left numerous recordings , both of his own music  and works by Schoenberg, Berg , Webern, Debussy , Ravel. Bartok ,  Messiaen ,  Mahler (the complete symphonies ) ,  Carter, Varese ,  Berlioz ,  and other composers  for such record labels as Sony 

Classical (formerly Columbia Records and CBS records , Deutsche Grammophon and   Erato records etc .  The Bayreuth Ring was released both on  LP,CD and DVD , and  there are also recordings of such great 20th century operas as Pelleas & Melisande by 

Debussy , Bluebeard's Castle by Bartok ,  and Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu .  Most of these are still available .  

   Boulez served as a mentor and teacher to many of today's leading composers in addition .

    Classical  music would never be the same after Pierre Boulez, and his  enormous influence on it  is a tribute to his greatness both as a composer, conductor , theorist  and teacher .  

Posted: Mar 31 2016, 06:38 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Can The Symphony Orchestra Survive In The 21 st Century ?
   This is a big question , and there are no easy answers to it .   The present era has been a rocky one for too many of  America's  numerous symphony orchestras , and  problems have been increasing for quite a few in Europe and elsewhere .   An appalling number of orchestras have either folded or come dangerously close to folding , and many everywhere are struggling to meet the costs of staying alive . 
   Virtually any orchestra anywhere is at potential risk of  going under and even some of the greatest in the world such as the world-famous Philadelphia orchestra , have  been experiencing serious financial difficulties .  
    The costs of running a quality orchestra are considerable ;  in order to attract the best  players, an orchestra must offer competitive salary ;
there are the costs of  salary for the music director , the musicians, and the administrative staff , which are considerable .  There is always the problem of selling enough tickets , and sold out halls are not something which happens every day , for a variety of reasons .  Even if an orchestra could  sell out every concert, this would not cover the considerable expenses of running it .
    Unlike European countries , where orchestras and opera companies have been heavily subsidized by the government for so long ,  there is 
pitifully  little government help for classical music organizations , and  businesses and philanthropists do not offer nearly enough help .
And recently, because of economic problems, more and more European governments have been forced to make cuts in support for  orchestras
and opera companies, causing a number to go under or exist in diminished circumstances , with lower pay for the musicians .
    The situation in Europe is still nowhere near as dire as in America, though .
 The audience for classical music has been growing older and older, and fewer young people seem to be interested in attending orchestral 
concerts in America .  The abandonment of school programs introducing young people to classical music is to blame for this largely,
although there are isolated exceptions .   
    The National Endowment For The  Arts could do much to remedy this unfortunate situation, but its government budget is pitifully small , 
and its job is to support the arts in general, not only classical music .  Our government COULD greatly increase its budget without  causing
any financial distress to the nation as a whole,  but unfortunately , too many conservative politicians in congress  are too dense and  
philistine to realize this and more than a few would like to see the NEA  abolished altogether .  They believe that the NEA  puts an unfair tax burden on citizens and  does nothing but subsidize "obscene " art in museums, which is idiotic .
    More than a few music critics and other classical music pundits have been questioning the relevance of the symphony orchestra in the 21st century .  According to them,  it is a "dinosaur " and  a  "museum ".  They claim that people in the present era cannot see the symphony
orchestra as something meaningful or important to them ;  it is a dated , hopelessly irrelevant  relic of the past which is nothing but a 
vehicle for rehashing  music by "Dead, White , European Males , "  but this is a half truth .
   True, much of  what orchestras play IS music by "Dead White , European Males , "  but what could be wrong with this ?  The music of  such
great composers as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak and others is still played for a good reason - it's  magnificent music which has stood the test of time and  which still thrills audiences today as much as it did in the past .  
    But orchestras DO play more music by living or recently deceased composers than most people realize , and some of the composers are LIVING White European males ,  and even  Americans, Asians,  Latin Americans as well as women , believe it or not .  
    The repertoire of the symphony orchestra  today is more diverse than ever before ;  a vast accumulation of repertoire  going back well
over 200 years exists ranging from  the 18th century to the present day , unlike the time of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, when the orchestra as we know it was a relatively new thing .
    If  more people, not only teenagers and young adults could only realize how enjoyable attending concerts can be, as well as listening
to CDs and  streaming  classical music on the internet etc , they would WANT to make  orchestral concerts a part of their life .  
   The only problem is  GETTING more people to realize this .  Music you enjoy can never be "irrelevant " !   The symphony orchestra can and will survive .  

Posted: Oct 12 2015, 09:59 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Composer Is Turning In His grave .
  Recently ,  London's Royal Opera , Covent Garden  revived  a legendary , rarely performed opera by  Gioacchino Rossini  (1792 - 1868 ) , best 

known for his beloved comic opera The Barber of Seville .  This was  the famous William Tell , made famous by its use on  "The Lone Ranger ".

    The famous overture is just the opening of a huge , nearly four hour long operatic epic based on  medieval Swiss history , when  Switzerland

was under the tyrannical rule of Austria .  Because of its great length ,  extremely demanding   parts for the principal singers  and overall  

unwieldiness , the opera has never been  performed  frequently , and revivals are always musical events .  

    The opera is chock full of wonderful music  beyond the famous overture , though  ,  so it's definitely worth seeing if you ever get a chance .

It has also frequently been performed with extensive cuts  for practical reasons . 

    But  the recent production in London  provoked  considerable critical outrage  because  the director  , who shall remain nameless ,  

indulged in  some of the typical  directorial mayhem which has been plaguing European  opera productions since the 1970s .   This  dramatic

perversity has been labelled "Eurotrash opera ", or "Regie theater " , in which directors and designers   take truly unwaranted liberties with

dramatic values , such as  adding all manner of gratuitous sex, violence and  ridiculous arbotrary production gimmicks .

     If the  great  composer Rossini were alive today , he would no doubt have suffered heart failure  during one of the opera's ballet  

sequences in this production  .  In one scene , Swiss peasants are dancing in honor of the tyrannical  Austrian ruler of  Switzerland, the one who 

orders  Wiilliam Tell, leader of the Swiss resistance  , to shoot an arrow  in order to attempt to  shoot  an apple off his son's head .

    The director  perversely  turned the ballet into a dance by Austrian soldiers who  strip and brutally rape a young Swss woman !   

He claimed that this was intended to show the  "ugliness of war", or something to that effect .  But was this really necessary  in an opera

like this ? I think not .  The London music critics had a field   day denouncing the director, as well they should have .  But such excesses have 

unfortunately becme the norm in European opera companies, especially Germany , where it's de rigeur to  do all manner of  perverse

things to any given opera .  You almost never see an opera staged in  its original time or even location .  Or possibly it will be  in the

country of the original  libretto , but  it will be in the present day .   Updating the operas is far from the worst part of these productions ,

and is not really objectionable in itself .  But the directors and designers always seem to have some ridiculous  arbitrary gimmick up their

sleeves, just for shock value .  Such as  showing  ***  executing people even in an opera which takes place centuries before the second world 

war ,  and other preposterous gimmicks .  

    There have been  a fair number of productions in America and Canada which update  operas and use gimmicks, but they fortunately tend not 

to be nearly as perverse as the European   ones .

     Interestingly , this production will be  coming to New York's Metropolitan opera in the near future  , where it has not been performed for  

at least 80  or so  years .  Whether the ballet will  repeat  what  was in the London performances remains to be seen ,  but let's hope not !

    The London production  will probably be released on DVD  before long , but there are at least two others  in existence .  Try the production

from La Scala, Milan conducted by Riccardo Muti  , which dates from about 20 or so years ago .   Such a great opera deserves better  than

to be subject  to  gratuitous sex and violence .  Leave poor Rossini in peace, please !

Posted: Aug 10 2015, 09:55 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Russian Conductor Kirill Petrenko Chosen To Be Next Chief Conductor Of The Berlin Philharmonic .
   Habemus conductorem !  In a surprise move , the members of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic have chosen a  dark horse to  their next  chief 

conductor  to take the helm from  Sir Simon Rattle  in 2018 when Rattle departs to lead the London Symphony orchestra .  After failing to  choose

a new chief maestro  last month , the members of the orchestra , who choose  their  top man  unlike most other orchestras ,  have chosen a

relatively  unfamiliar name to  the concertgoing public , a 43 year old  Russian conductor  who is currently general music director of the  

presitigious Bavarian State opera in Munich  and is better known  for conducting opera than concerts . Vasily Petrenko is a native of  Omsk,

Russia  and has  conducted leading orchestras and opera companies all over Europe as well as  at the Metropolitan opera .  

   He is not nearly as well known yet to the classical music public as  such  renowned conductors as  Christian Thielemann , Rattle, Mariss Jansons ,

Riccardo Chailly , Valery Gergiev  ,  Daniel Barenboim and others, all of whom have  been regular guests  with the Berliners , and had only  

conductoed the orchestra on three occaisions . But the musicians of the orchestra were so favorably impressed by  Petrenko's   conducting that 

they have chosen himto succeed  Rattle  .

    Although Russian , Petrenko  has extensive experience conducting the operas  of such quintessential German composers as  Wagner

and Richard Strauss , and  his conducting of Wagner's Ring of the Nibelungen at the Bayreuth festival  in the past two Summers  was lavshly

praised by leading German music critics and others .  

    Not having heard him  conduct yet, I can't  pass judgment on  Petrenko , but  everything I have heard about him so far indicates that he 

is an outstanding  musician  and conductor .   How his  tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic will turn out is impossible to  predict ,  

as with every  conductor who has just  been chosen to lead a top orchestra , but  for the time being ,  things are looking up for this  magnificent

ensemble .
Posted: Jun 23 2015, 10:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Today Is The 150th Birthday Of The Great Danish Composer Carl Nielsen .
   The great Danish composer Carl Nielsen was born a century and a half  ago on June 9th , 1865  and died in 1931 , honored as the foremost

composer of that small but charming Scandinavian country .  Unless you're fairly knowledgable about classical music , you may not have

heard of this  highly individual  composer  , who  was almost totally unknown in America  until  Leonard Bernstein  discovered his music  

in the mid 1960s and began to  perform and record it with  his then orchestra , the New York Philharmonic .

   His music was not even  that well known in Europe outside of Scandinavia .  But things have changed , and  Carl Nielsen has been 

generally recognized as a truly great composer everywhere .  Unlike his great contemporary   Jean Sibelius of Finland , who was born the same 

year ,  no  leading conductors  championed his music until fairly recently  .  The music of Sibelius  had powerful champions in  such great

conductors as Leopold Stokowski , Sir Thomas Beecham , Sir John Barbirolli ,  Serge Koussevitzky and others .  

    Nielsen is a difficult composer to pidgeon-hole .  He  neither began nor followed any "isms".   The only ism he ever followed  was

individualism .  Perhaps this  caused  the relative lack of  appreciation he  received during his lifetime .  He was born on the island of

Funen in the Danish archipelago , the son of  humble  parents  , one of 12 children .  His father was a house painter and amateur  

folk musician  , and  the young Carl grew up in  the idyllic Danish countryside .  He learned to play  several instruments ,including

the trumpet  but concentratted on the violin and studied at the Copenhagen  conservatory  under the leading Danish musicians of the day .

   He became a member of the second violin section of the Royal Danish orchestra , which  is the orchestra of the Royal Copenhagen opera  

as well as playing regular concerts ; the orchestra still exists  in the same capacity today .  He also began to conduct opera and concerts  there

while producing a wide variety of orchestral works, chamber music, choral works,  two operas ,  etc  and  began to make a name for himself

as a composer in his native country and   nearby Sweden , where he regularly conducted  , including his own works .   

    Nielsen's most famous works are his six  brilliant  ,powerful and highly original symphonies ; they have finally gained a place in  the

international orchestral repertoire and have been  recorded fairly often  by a wide variety of different   conductors .  His woodwind quintet , for 

flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn  is probably the greatest work for that combination of instruments  . (There are more than you may 

realize ).  

    The delightful, witty and  sparkling comic opera "Maskarade ", which  takes place at a Copenhagen masquerade ball  , is considered the 

Danish national opera ,  is probably the only opera by a Scandinavian composer to  be performed with any frequency outside of  Scandinavia 

and is available on DVD .  

   The clarinet concerto  is probably the greatest concerto for that instrument  , and the delightful violin concerto is finally coming into its own '

The flute concerto is also delightful .  Orchestral works include  the  radiant concert overture "Helios" which  evokes the sun rising and falling

on the Agaean sea , based on Nielsen's visit to Greece ,  the  symphonic poem "Pan & Syrinx " based on Greek mythology ,  and  the

"Imaginary journey to the Faeroe Islands  " . as well as the scinitlating overture to "Maskarade ."  The choral works are very interesting

but  totally unknown outside of Scandinavia  . They have been recorded , though .

    The music of Carl Nielsen is  full of  energy ; it is optimistic  and life-affirming  ,although it can be grindingly dissonant at times .  It  is

the exact opposite of the brooding , mystical  and  dark  music of his Finnish friend Sibelius , who was inspired by the  specatacular  

forests  and  primitive  countryside of his  homeland as well as its ancient pagan   Finno-Ugrian  mythology .

    Nielsen's music mixes  joviality , humor  and  optimism  with  stark, angular dissonances  in a highly personal way .  One of his greatest and

best known works is his 4th symphony , subtitled "The Inextinguishable "  was inspired by the horrendous carnage  of the first world  war and 

was premiered  at  the time .  The concept of the symphony is that  life is indestructable  and there is an elemental  life force in the universe

which would preserve life despite  the  horrifying destruction of the war .  The work itself is not " inextinguishable ;  it  represents

the elemental will to life .  The work is in four continuous movements without a break  and is  filled with  fierce conflict  and  clashing

dissonances  ; there is no  central key such as C   major or minor ;  different keys clash with each other  and   fight  for dominance .

In the 4rth movement . ther eis a fierce battle between two  antiphonal sets of tympani which  thunder at each other in an almost

terifying way . But the symphony ends with fiercely defiant optimism .  

    The even stranger 5th symphony has no subtitle . It is in two movements .  Nielsen conceived of this unique work as a  representation of the

elemental struggle between good and evil , chaois and order .  Again, there is no central key and the symphony wanders from key to key

in a way which may seem  chaotic at first but  which proves to be highly logical . In the first movement a solo snare drum beats  away

relentlessly amid whatsounds lile random noise and chaos ; eventually the player is directed by Nielsen to  begin playing  as though he

had gone berserk and all hell breaks loose in a  terrifying  battle ; but  the drum is  soon silenced and the movement  ends in quiet

contemplation  a  clossal battle which has ended .  The  frenetically energetic  2nd movement  is an attempt to rise above the  

chaos of the first and ends again, in fiercely defiant triumph .  No symphony  like this had ever been written before .

     You can easily obtain recordings of Nielsen's music  led by such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein ,  Herbert Blomstedt,

Simon Rattle,  Paavo Berglund . Sir Colin Davis and others , as well as his  non-orchestral works . Check  to order 

them or .  You'll wonder where this wonderful music has been all your life !

Posted: Jun 09 2015, 03:51 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Stalemate In Berlin .
  This story isn't brand new, so please excuse me ; it happened last month , and it's as fascinating as it is important .  The 123 members of the great 

Berlin Philharmonic met last month at an undisclosed location  to decide on a conductor to succeed  Sir Simon Rattle as chief conductor when he

steps down  in a few years to  be  the next prinicpal conductor the the London symphony orchestra .

    Unfortunately , the musicians were unable to agree on  the winning candidate annouced they will make their descision within  a year or less .  

  Critics  , commentators and classical music fans everywhere were sorely disappointed  .  There has been so much speculation  ; it's a lot  like

wondering who the next president of the   U.S. will be .  Everyone, or almost everone has a favored  conductor he or she would like to  see  lead

this  mighty ensembel with its  illustrious history dating back to 1882 when it was founded .  Previous chief conductors have included such  

podium giants as Claudio Abbado , who passed away only last year at the age of 80 ,  Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwangler .  Virtually all

of the world's foremost conductors have appeared with the Berliners  over the years , and the orchestra has made an enormous number of 

recordings under its chief conductors and  guest conductors  for such prestigious record labels as Deutsche Grammophon , EMI ,  Philips,  and 

others .

    The Berlin Philharmonic is a self-governing institution ;  the members of the orchestra  choose their chief  conductors and guests  as well

as  winnders of  auditions for membership in the orchestra , although there is a general manager who  functions as an administrator .

    In most other orchestras , the chief conductor or music director  is chosen by the management  with the  input of the orchestra members ,

but the Berlins have  control over the whole process .  

    Meetings to choose a chief conductor have been compared to  Papal conclaves in Rome ;  last month , the musicians were required to

temporarily surrender their cell phones for the  vote .  

    But this time,  the musicians were unable to reach a majority vote , and  the decision had to be postponed .  The  renowned  Berlin born

conductor Christian Thielemann, currently  general  music director of the presitigious and historic  Saxon State opera in Dresden  and the 

presitigious  Dresden State orchestra, which fiuctions both as a concert orchestra and the opera house's orchestra ,  has been considered

to be the most likely candidate  by many, and he was a protege of the legendary Herbert von Karajan many years ago before he became 

world famous .  Other conductors who had been regular guests  have been  considered possibilities,  such as Latvian Mariss Jansons , who 

may be too old at 72  ,  Daniel Barenboim, the same age ,  and for many years general music director of the Berlin State opera , or younger 

ones such as Venezualan Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic or  Latvian Andris Nelsons, recently installed as music director of 

the Boston symphony , but  Nelsons is unlikely to  give up Boston so soon  or  lead both orchestras simultaneously .   Now it's anyone's guess .

    Could a dark horse emerge ?  Who knows ?
Posted: Jun 08 2015, 11:20 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It's almost Impossible For Me To Choose Favorites In Classical Music
  If you ask me "who is my favorite composer , my favorite conductor ,  pianist , violinist , opera singer , orchestra " ,  sorry , I just can't  choose 

from so many great ones , living and dead .  But this is a characteristic of mine ;  I'm hard pressed to tell you my favorite  book ,  magazine ,

newspaper , film , television program ,  food, drink ,  website , or what have you .  

   I've been listening to , reading about ,  studying  and performing classical music for nearly 5o years now, since I was  only about 13 years old . .

I've experienced so many  great composers , works ,  musicians , recordings  and live performances  it's virtually immpossible  to name my 

favorites . Of course , I like some composers , some works and some  musicians more than others , and dislike some ,  but it's like choosing  

the favorite among your children .  

   Of course , I love the great established masterpieces of the repertoire by  Bach ,Mozart, Beethoven ,  Wagner,  and other famous composers ,

but there's so much wonderful music  which is off the beaten path  by composers who are not household names .  Ever heard of  such

composers as Karol Szymanowski , Carl Nielsen ,  Hans Pfitzner,  Arnold Bax ,  Albert Roussel ,  Sergei Taneyev ,  Alberic Magnard ,

Jon Leifs ,  Wilhelm Stenhammar , Nikolai Myaskovsky , Charles Koechlin ,  George Whitefield Chadwick ,  Havergal Brian ,

Roberto Gerhard ,  Rued Langgaard ,  etc ? Probably not unless you're a real lover of classical music  with a lot of listening experience ,

but all of these wrote some terrific music that is well worth hearing . And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to  obscure

but interesting composers .  They come from countries as diverse as Denmark , America , England , Russia , Poland , Sweden and even  

Iceland  in the case of Jon Leifs .  And it's so easy to  get recordings of their music now , even though your chances of hearing their music live

are not  very great .  

    It's similar with recordings .  You can get the music of Beethoven , Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Tchaikovsky ,Debussy , Ravel  et  performed

by a galaxy of different conductors , orchestras , solists and singers  ranging  from the early 20 th century to  musicians of the present day .

   Take the  nine symphonies of Beethoven alone ; among the most important cornerstones of the classical canon .

The first complete recording of Beethoven's iconic fifth symphony was made by the Berlin Philharmonic  conducted by the once  

world famous Hungarian conductor Artur Nickisch  around  1914 , under the most primitive recording conditions . An acoustical

recording  made before electronic recordings .  It's a fascinating document .  Nickisch , one of the first superstar conductors , iived from

1855 to 1922 .  He was born less than  30 years after the death of Beethoven  in 1827 !   Since then ,  who knows how many  

conductors , famous and not so famous , have recorded the Beethoven symphonies, many in integral sets of all nine .  

Such legendary names as Toscanini , Bernstein , Stokowski ,  Karajan ,  Bruno Walter, Solti ,  Mengelberg ,  Klemperer , Carlos Kleiber ,

to name only a handful .  The young Venuzuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel , born in 1981 , is one of the more recent ones .

    How do you choose a favorite when you've heard so many recordings of just one famous symphony ? It's not easy .

You will like some more than others , but for me it's virtually impossible . Many conductors have recorded these symphonies

on two or more occaisions .  The legendary Austrian maestro Herbert von Karajan  left no fewer than FOUR sets of all nine Beethoven 

symphonies ,  beginning  in the 1950s  with London's Philharmonia orchestra , not to be confused with the London Philharmonic ,  and   then

with the Berlin Philharmonic , which he led  for over 30 years .  The last set was in Digital sound  in the 1980s . He lived from  1908 to 1989 .

    If you're looking for recordings of the Beethoven symphonies , it's a daunting task if you're a beginner .   

   As there is no one right way to  perform a musical work, especially an immortal masterpiece , there are different approaches  , and fans and

critics debate  the virtues of different recordings endlessly .  Which is the best ?  Who has made THE definitive recordign of any of the  nine

Beethoven symphonies .  Well, there is no such thign as a "definitive " performance of any  masterpiece . Different conductors  have

changed their  approach to interpretation over the years .  

    Do you want a classic recording by  such greats as Toscanini and Furtwangler  made  between the  1930s  and 50s  in  dated  ,

less than high fidelity sound ,  or a more recent digital one  recorded with amazing  clarity and presence by  eminent living  maestros

such as   Daniel Barenboim, Riccardo Chailly , Bernard haitink and others .  You can also  hear  recordings  on  period instruments , with gut 

strings, simpler woodwind instruments , valveless horns and trumpets and old  fashioned tympany  made with  leather  rather than plastic .

    One thing is certain ;   comparisons  between different conductors and orchestras are fascinating .  On one extreme, you have  the

fast and furious recordings of   the legendary Arturo Toscanini  , so full of nervous energy , and on the other extreme , the   slow, majestic,

weighty  and deliberate  recordings  of  the legendary German conductor Otto Klemperer .  Which is right ? You decide , but   no one

has a monopoly on the right way  to conduct the Beethoven symphonies .  As Beethoven has been dead for  narly 200 years , we will  

bever know  which  ones he woudl or would not have liked .  But the arguments will never cease among different  listeners .

    But we should be greatful for  the existence of so many different  interpretations .  

Possibly you will have your favorites .  But I just can't decide .  I'd rather just enjoy the music than worry about my favorites .


Posted: May 04 2015, 10:12 PM by the horn | with no comments
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A Violinist Wins The Classical Music Lottery , Sort Of .
  You probably haven't heard of  Chinese-born American violinist Frank Hwang , but he's just won Classical Music's equivalent of the lottery ,

and one of the  most prestigious posts in the world of  the symphony orchestra .  He's just been appointed to be the next concertmaster, that is  

the   principal  violinist of the New York Philharmonic , oldest symphony orchestra in  America .

    He managed to beat out   many other  brilliantly gifted violinists from other  great orchestras to get this plum job ,  so it isn't as easy

as winning the lottery  through  blind luck .  He  got the job through a combination of   enormous talent and even more hard work  developing    

his  talent  from an early age, not to mention sheer luck .  But the   competition for such a  coveted  position is very much like the lottery in that

your  chances  

of getting such   a job if you're a violinist  are  pretty much astronomical  . It's   tough enough to get  a job as a  a section violinist in a great

orchestra  , or  a position in any section  , but  Frank Hwang   has achieved something which   very few classical musicians  will

ever  do  no matter how talented .  

    If you're interested to know how orchestral auditions  work , you can check a post I did  years ago  when I first  began my blog  here 

called  "How do you get a job in a symphony orchestra " ?  As a horn player  , I went through this harrowing ritual many times, including  

three auditions for the New York Philharmonic  myself  .   Believe me, it's not an experience for those who are faint-hearted !

     Hwang was born in China in 1978 but came to America with his family as a child , and was first taught the violin by his mother .

He went on to  study seriously  after initial lack of enthusiasm  , studied with  distinguished teachers , won many presitigious prizes 

and    appeared as a soloist with  many leading orchestras as well as playing recitals and   performing chamber music .  

   He became concertmaster of  the presitigious  Houston symphony , but when the  renowned violinist  Glenn Dicterow, who recently retired as

Philharmonic after  over 20 years  , he  manged to beat out many other superb   violinists for the job , and  spent several weeks as a guest

concertmaster   trying out  for the job .  This frequently happens  at auditions .  After winnowing out  many applicants ,  the  

finalists  are sometimes given a chance to  perform at actual concerts with the orchestra as a trial . 

    Music director  Alan Gilbert   , who will be leaving this post  in two years , made the final choice of Hwang for the job .  A committee of

  members of the orchestra  votes  on  candidates for any  position , but the music director always has the final say .

     So congratulations , Frank Hwang ! You have   enormous shoes to fill  , following in the footsteps of so many  outstanding  concertmasters

of the New York Philharmonic .  It's a great responsibility  being in the hot seat of   a great orchestra .  

    The concertmaster is   like the quarterback of a football team .  It's an incredibly tough and demanding job ,  and the pressure

is enormous  . The concermaster has to play   any given violin solo in  orchestral works  , and is responsible for crucial tasks such

as   regulating   the bowing  of the violins  and   being the liason between the  violins  and the conductor .  Sometimes  the

concertmaster plays    violin concertos  with the orchestra , or as a guest with other orchestras .  Glenn Dicterow did this often and with

the greatest distinction .  

    Being the concertmaster of the orchestra has certain perks , such as being the highest paid member of the orchestra , and  though

he won't make the same salary as  the quarterback of   an NFL  quarterback , he has a very steady  job and   will last much  lnger

on the   job than any football player on the job and  like the other members of the orchestra  , will get generous benefits  andd two months 

paud vacation !     Not too shabby !


Posted: Apr 08 2015, 10:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 90th Birthday To The Great French Composer And Conductor Pierre Boulez !
  Today is the 90 th birthday of one of the most important and influential  classical musicians of  our time  , Pierre Boulez . It would be difficult to

overstate his  enormous impact on  classical music in the 20 th and early 21st centuries  , both as a composer and conductor , as well as a teacher ,

writer and theorist .  He is now  retired from conducting   and  composing  due to  failing eyesight and  physical frailty , but  the  entire vast 

world of classical music is celebrating his  birthday today . 

   Born in  Montbrison , France in 1925 , Boulez  studied  composition in  Paris with the  great  French  composer  Olivier Messiaen  at the

Paris conservatoire ,  and   became  known as  a composer of  rigorous  , highly complex  serial music  which    never pandered  to   

audiences  and    even   alienated many listeners  , as well as a champion  of   the  12 tone music of   the so-called "Second Viennese school " of 

Arnold Schoenberg , Anton Webern   and other  modern composers .  

   Boulez  became known as an Enfant Terrible of contemporary music ,   contemptuously dismissing  20 th century composers who did not meet

his    rigorous standards of  modernity , Shostakovich , for example and  once arrogantly declared that any living composer who did

not conform to   rigorous  atonal serialism  was  "irrelelvant" and "useless " , showing total disregard for  what concertgoers  expected  ,

as well as alienating many other prominent composers  . but he  continued to  produce   works which  gained  performances and  

earned the admiration of   such  musical giants as Igor Stravinsky .  Most have been works for  smallish ensembles of  diverse instruments ,

including  electronic instruments  ,  marimbas  and other  exotic  devices  , some with solo voices .  Three extremely difficult  piano sonatas ,

and  works with  such  strange titles as " The hammer without a master ",  "Pli Selon Pli " (fold on fold )  etc .

   He used the   texts of once  avant-garde French poets  for his vocal works and   these were reocrded  a mumber of times , sometimes under 

his direction .   Boulez did not originally intend to become a conductor , but felt the need to in order to   have  his intentions   best realized  .

    Boulez began to appear with  such great orchestras as  the  Cleveland orchestra ,  the London symphony and others , and in the 1970s

became principal conductor of Lndon's BBC symphony orchestra , which was sponsored by  the BBC  and  allowed him ample rehearsal  

time to achieve  performances of  the  greatest polish and precision .  He also began to conduct opera ,    appeared regularly at the
world famous Wagner festival  at Bayreuth  , leading the   controversial 1976 centennial production of Wagner's Ring  , which    brike with

traditional sets and costumes ,  and acclaimned  productions of   Berg's Wozzeck and Lulu at the Paris opera ,  and Debussy's Pelleas &

Melisande at London's Royal opera  .

   When Leonard Bernstein  stepped down as music director of the  New York  Philharmonic in 1969 ,  Boulez  took the orchestra over in  

1971 .  He was   exact opposite of the  the flamboyant , exuberant and  highly emotional  podium figure which Berbnstein was  ;

he  was   sober , restrained and   undemonstrative on the pppodium , and many  critics and listeners accused him of   being  a  coldly

analytic musician who  favored a totally cerebral  approach to  music making  .  But all acknowledged his enormous   technical  expertise  

and  fastidious attention to detail  .   

    The musicians of the New York Philharmonic  were  sometimes  exasperated by his  rigirous attention to detail in rehearsals and  insistence 

on  achieving  perfectly  in tune playing   , clarity of  texture , that is making sure that everything in a score can be clearly heard ,  which is far 

easy .  Particularly with  contemprary  works with their  enormous complexity .  

   Boulez   avoided  the   audience -pleasing  works of  Tchaikovsky , Rachmaninov and other Romantic era composers ,  with which he had no 

affinity and even  disdain for , concentrating on  music by Debussy , Ravel,  Schoenberg, Berg, Webern , Bartok, Stravinsky , Messiaen and 

20th century composers.  However , he did not  bar guest conductors  from  doing  the audience favorites .

   When he stepped down from the Philharmonic in  1977 , he moved to Paris , where  with the generous  funding of the  French government , 

he became director of a center for  avant garde music called  IRCAM  , the International center for experimentation in modern music ,  leading

musicians  who  specialized in new music as well   as experimenting with combining  electronic and acoustical instruments .  .

   Boulez maintained his relationships as guest conductor with   the Cleveland orchestra , the Chicago symphony ,  the Vienna Philharmonic

the  Berlin Philharmonic and    other great orchestras ,  but  his  activities as a conductor  limited his time to   compose .

     AS a composer ,  Boulez  began  using  Schoenberg's 12 tone techniques , but was determined to go beyond them  and achieve

even greater complexity  and  compositional rigor .  Shortly after Schoenberg's death in 1951 , he wrote  a notorious  article

called "Schoenberg is dead ", dismissing  the   great Austrian's music as no longer  sufficiently avant garde .   Music which  was once

considered outrageous in the early 20 th century was now old hat to him !

    If you are looking for  tunefulness in music , you will   never  be able to grasp  the music of Boulez .  But  it  rewards repeated listenings .

    He has also made numerous  recordings  as a conductor  for  Sony Classical  (formerly CBS  and Columbia records ) Deutsche Grammophon 

and other labels  of music by  Debussy, Ravel, Wagner,  Mahler , Schienberg ,  Webern , Bartok , Stravinsky ,Messiaen  and other  composers ,

including   operas by Wagner , Debuusy , Schienberg  ,  Berg  and  Bartok , many of which have  won awards , such as the Grammies .

   Boulez has served as a mentor to many  younger composers and conductors  who went on to achieve  world fame ; Daniel Barenboim ,  

for   example .  He is a giant of  modern music , as  uncompromising and forbidding as he may seem .  



Posted: Mar 26 2015, 03:28 PM by the horn | with no comments
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